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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Israel stands down in wake of Syria threat

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Israel’s military sent home many of the reservists called up to deal with the threat from Syria.

The decision on Sunday to release the reservists, who remain on alert status, came a day after President Obama said he would seek approval from the U.S. Congress to launch a limited military strike on Syria. Congress reconvenes next week following its summer recess.

Citing unnamed Israeli officials, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that Obama called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu several hours before his Rose Garden announcement on Saturday to tell the Israeli leader him that the strike, meant to punish Syria for using chemical weapons against its citizens, would be delayed pending congressional approval.

Netanyahu has instructed his government ministers to refrain from publicly criticizing or praising Obama for his decisions regarding Syria.

Meanwhile, Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations in a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the international body to prevent military action to “push forward in reaching a political solution to the crisis in Syria,” Reuters reported, citing the Syrian state news agency SANA.

The report from Monday also said the U.N. should “prevent the absurd use of force out of the frame of international legitimacy.”

Investigations have found mounting evidence that Syria used chemical weapons against its citizens; the Syrian government denies the charge.

At the dedication Monday of a new highway interchange, Netanyahu said Israelis should “go out and enjoy the holiday, and if someone thinks of harming the tranquility of the holiday, he knows what awaits him.”

Netanyahu was referring to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which begins on Wednesday.

Indyk joined one Israeli-Palestinian negotiating session, State Dept. says

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Martin Indyk, the U.S. envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks has attended a negotiating session, the U.S. State Department said.

The Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams reportedly will meet on Tuesday; they met Saturday in Jerusalem. The Palestinians had said last week that Indyk had not attended any of the sessions.

“Israeli and Palestinian delegations have been meeting continuously since final status negotiations resumed on July 29,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Sunday in a statement, according to Israeli media reports.

“The negotiations have been serious, and U.S. Special Envoy Martin Indyk and his team have been fully briefed on the bilateral talks and also participated in a bilateral negotiating session,” the statement said. “As we have said in the past, we are not planning to read out the details of these meetings.”

The peace talks have been under a nearly total media blackout, reportedly at the request of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, since their resumption.

Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday told his Fatah party officials that the Palestinians are negotiating with Israel for a state on the pre-1967 lines with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, which he called a “red line,” Israel Radio reported.

Abbas also said the Palestinian Authority agreed not to seek statehood from and membership in international organizations in exchange for the release of 104 prisoners held in Israeli jails. He said negotiators will ask for the release of about 250 other prisoners as well.

Fatah official Nabil Shaath told the Palestinian Maan news agency on Monday that the peace talks have not made any progress, and that the Israeli side has not presented any new suggestions or proposals. He said the P.A. could turn to international organizations if negotiations do not bear fruit.

One session of the talks reportedly was postponed last week following the deaths of three Palestinians during clashes with Israeli troops in the Qalandiya refugee camp. The State Department denied there had been any change in the negotiation schedule because of the incident.

Lebanon indicts three in rocket attack on Israel

(JTA)—Lebanon indicted two of its citizens and a Palestinian for firing rockets into northern Israel.

The two Lebanese men were charged by prosecutors on Monday in the Aug. 22 attack, the French news agency AFP reported, citing an unnamed judicial source in Lebanon. The Palestinian, who remains at large, also was charged with involvement in the attack, which caused damage to homes and cars.

At least one of the four rockets fired was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

The Lebanese suspects, who were arrested Saturday by the Lebanese army, admitted to supplying the rockets and transporting them from the Gaza Strip to southern Lebanon, according to the Daily Star newspaper in Lebanon.

Israel retaliated the following day by targeting a base belonging to the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.

The al-Qaida-linked Abdullah Azzam Brigades later claimed responsibility for the attack.

Shas Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in the hospital again

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, has been hospitalized for the third time in a week and is on a respirator.

Yosef, 92, was taken to Hadassah Hospital-Ein Kerem on Sunday night, hours after visiting the hospital for tests.

The rabbi, who had back surgery in July after fainting and hurting himself, was hospitalized for five days last week for a recurrence of back pain, according to reports. He had a stroke in January.

Yosef is conscious and remains able to communicate, Haaretz reported, citing family members.

His son Yitzchak is the chief Sephardic rabbi of Israel, a post Yosef once held.

Bomb explodes near Israeli patrol on Gaza border

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A bomb detonated near an Israeli military patrol near the border fence with Gaza.

The powerful bomb was exposed Monday morning by a military bulldozer doing work near the fence. No soldiers were injured in the explosion.

It was the second time in four days that a bomb planted near the border fence has detonated near soldiers on patrol.

The bulldozer and troops returned to the area to search for more buried bombs.

Israel’s population grows slightly to 8.081 million

JERUSALEM (JTA)—The population in Israel rose to 8.081 million—148,000 more than on the eve of Rosh Hashanah a year ago.

According to data released Monday by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, the population grew by 1.8 percent, with 75.1 percent of Israel’s population, or 6.066 million people, listed as Jewish. Arabs made up 20.7 percent of the population. There were no significant changes in either group.

Those listed as others made up 4.2 percent of the population, including Christians and people without religious affiliations.

Last year, 163,000 babies were born and 40,000 people died.

In addition, there were 16,968 new immigrants to Israel in the Jewish year 5773, as well as more than 6,000 Israelis who returned to the country after living abroad.

The most popular names for boys were Itai, Daniel, Ori, Yosef and Noam; for girls they were Noa, Shira, Tamar, Talia and Yael.

Yarden Gerbi takes gold at Worlds, first for Israeli judoka

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Yarden Gerbi became the first Israeli to win a gold medal at the Judo World Championships.

Gerbi, 24, of Netanya, defeated France’s Clarisse Agbegnenou, the European champion, to take the under-63 kilo category in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, last week. Agbegnenou finished the bout with a dislocated shoulder.

Gerbi scored five knockouts in the tournament.

Israeli Alice Schlesinger won a bronze medal at the World Championships in 2009.

Netanyahu credits fence for stemming tide of illegal African migration

JERUSALEM (JTA)—No migrants from African countries such as Sudan and Eritrea entered Israel in August.

Some 193 illegal African migrants entered Israel from its border with Egypt during August 2012.

“The fence has completely blocked illegal migration—also an extraordinary achievement,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday in making the announcement at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Last year, Israeli erected a fence and added sophisticated surveillance to keep out the infiltrators. Hundreds of African migrants formerly entered Israel each month.

Also during August, some 168 African migrants left the country voluntarily, according to reports.

There are about 55,000 illegal African migrants in Israel, most from Eritrea and Sudan. Most are economic migrants seeking a place to make a better life for themselves.

Last week, Israeli media reported that Uganda had agreed to take in African migrants willing to leave Israel and either absorb them or serve as a transfer point to their countries of origin.

Ugandan officials have denied the reports, though Israeli officials reportedly said the deal was verbal.

Hamas terrorists charged in planned attack on Jerusalem’s Mamilla Mall

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Five Hamas terrorists were indicted in connection with a planned attack on the upscale Mamilla Mall in Jerusalem.

The cell members, from eastern Jerusalem, were charged Sunday in Jerusalem for allegedly planning to carry out the attack on the popular open-air shopping mall on the cusp of the Old City.

Two of the men, Arab-Israelis in their 20s who work as cleaners at the mall, confessed to planning to plant a bomb wrapped as a gift in a trash can or restaurant over the High Holidays season.

Mamilla is crowded with tourists and shoppers during holiday. The strip leads directly to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate.

The terror cell also was planning other attacks, according to the indictment, including planting a bomb in Ramallah in the West Bank intended to injure Israeli soldiers and firing homemade rockets at Israeli settlements near Ramallah.

Fifth Israeli communications satellite is launched

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A fifth Israeli commercial communications satellite was launched.

The Amos 4 satellite separated from the final part of its launcher on Sunday morning and its systems are operational, according to reports. The satellite will take two weeks to reach its final orbit. It was launched the previous evening from Kazakhstan.

The satellite, which is operated by the Israeli company Spacecom Satellite Communications Ltd., will serve as a remote transmission and broadcast hub.

Built by Israel Aerospace Industries for $365 million, the satellite will provide communications services over a wide area that includes Russia, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

“There are very few countries in the world that can congratulate themselves on such an achievement,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday of the launch.

A sixth satellite is scheduled for launching next year.

Bennett urges patience on Western Wall plan

(JTA)—Israel’s minister of religious services, Naftali Bennett, acknowledged flaws in his plan for egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall.

“I know that the temporary platform is not perfect,” Bennett wrote in a letter reported Aug. 29 by Haaretz. “But, in the spirit of Rosh Hashana, I felt an obligation to provide an immediate solution so every Jew can pray at the Kotel.”

According to the plan announced early last week, a 4,840-square-foot platform at Robinson’s Arch that can accommodate 450 worshipers at a time will be available 24 hours a day for egalitarian worship. The platform is located in an area near the Western Wall, but separate from the main prayer plaza.

Bennett’s plan is a temporary answer until the implementation of a long-term solution devised by Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharnsky. The Sharansky plan is aimed at defusing longstanding tensions between Orthodox leaders who want to maintain traditional prayer at the wall and women and egalitarian groups seeking equal access.

The Sharansky Plan calls for the Robinson’s Arch archaeological site at the southern part of the Western Wall to be used as a permanent space for egalitarian prayer. Under the proposal, the Western Wall plaza would be expanded to encompass the additional prayer space.

The two sections of the plaza, separated by the Mugrabi Bridge, would share a common entrance.

“It is important to stress that the new platform is temporary,” Bennett wrote. “I remain committed to the government’s efforts to advance the ‘Sharansky Plan’ as well as to continuing a dialogue with representatives from all religious movements and all parts of the Jewish nation.”

Settlement construction has more than doubled in ‘13

(JTA)—The number of Israeli construction projects in the West Bank has increased by 141 percent in the first half of 2013.

The work that began on 1,461 homes during the first six months of 2013 surpassed the 1,089 starts registered by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics for all of 2012, the Jerusalem Post reported on Aug. 29.

Palestinians have argued that Israel’s continued building in the settlements jeopardizes the peace process.

Israel has refused to freeze any kind of settlement activity.

In 75 percent of cases where ground has been broken in the first half of 2013, the construction projects were in the five largest settlements—176 in Ariel, 272 in Beitar Illit, 219 in Givat Ze’ev, 278 in Modiin Illit and 155 in Maaleh Adumim, according to the statistics bureau.

Polish Jews take kosher slaughter ban to court

(JTA)—The umbrella group representing Polish Jews petitioned Poland’s constitutional court to reverse a ban on ritual slaughter methods.

In a statement released Friday, the Union of Jewish Religious Communities said the petition concerned “a collision of two laws,” a reference to measures enacted in 1997—one permitting and the other prohibiting ritual slaughter.

The statement said that following the Polish parliament’s rejection in July of a draft amendment to the law on the protection of animals, “the legal situation of the Jewish community, whose duty is among others overseeing the supply of kosher food and ritual slaughter, became unclear.”

Polish lawmakers voted down a draft amendment to the law on animal protection that would have allowed for the slaughter of animals without prior stunning, as required by Jewish and Muslim law, if carried out so as to follow religious customs.

Poland’s Union of Muslims will be filing a separate application to the court, according to a report Friday by Polskie Radio.

Some 80 Polish firms that mainly sell kosher and halal products abroad will take part in an independent lawsuit against the state seeking financial compensation for losses incurred during the ban, the radio station reported.

Slaughter without prior stunning was made illegal in Poland as of January, following a ruling in November by the constitutional court on a petition by animal rights activists. The court said the government had no constitutional right to pass a regulation in 2004 that legalized ritual slaughter.

French interfaith imam assaulted, called ‘Zionist’ in Tunisia

(JTA)—A French imam known for promoting Jewish-Muslim relations said he was physically assaulted in Tunisia by a man who called him a “Zionist.”

Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Drancy near Paris, said he was punched in the chest and shoved to the ground on Sunday near the Hotel Gammarth near Tunis, the capital of Tunisia.

“He insulted me, called me a ‘Zionist and collaborator’ and then he hit me,” Chalghoumi was quoted Monday as telling the Le Parisien daily.

Chalghoumi was assaulted in front of his wife and children, who also were hit by the unnamed attacker, the report said. The imam was taken to the hospital, according to the French news agency AFP. Neither he nor his family members sustained serious injuries.

According to the report, hotel staffers detained the man, who addressed Chalghoumi in French, before he was arrested by police.

Chalghoumi, who is well known in France for his involvement in interfaith forums and initiatives, has received many death threats in France for his friendly ties with CRIF, the umbrella group representing French Jewish communities, and for visiting Israel several times.


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